Patently Absurd

Paul Thurst, writing a piece called “Wait until the patent expires” on the Engineering Radio blog, here, notes that the patent iBiquity holds on IBOC just may leave them in charge of the system in perpetuity — taxing all stations using “HD” from now till kingdom come and able to audit their finances:

If I had to pick, one of the most egregious things about HD Radio™ is the fact that it is a proprietary system. Ibiquity owns the licenses for the IBOC HD Radio™ technology. If the FCC were to force radio stations to convert to all digital transmission, like they did with TV, then one corporation would then own the modulation method for all of the radio stations in the country. It would also own all of the secondary (HD2 and HD3) channels by virtue of the password protected software and would, as current contracts are being written, be allowed to inspect the books any time they want.

This could lead to some very interesting situations, especially if Ibiquity chose to flex some muscle regarding programming content, formats, music, politics, news coverage, or what have you. Let’s not forget, Ibiquity’s investors are large broadcasting companies like Clear Channel, Cumulus, Citadel, Univision, and so on. Smaller broadcasting companies could likely get caught in a go along to get along situation.

If you have never played with an HD Radio™ exciter, let me tell you, everything is locked down. Every function needs a password from Ibiquity and there is no way around it.

Ibiquity’s proponents dismiss this concern and continue to say “Just wait until the patent expires, then it will be an open system.” Except that the “patent” is not going to expire. Ibiquity owns 16 patents for their IBOC system. Only one patent needs to be in effect for the HD Radio™ system to remain proprietary. The last patent was issued on May 10, 2010. Ibiquity simply needs to make some small change, update, or tweak and they can file for a new patent, which will add another 10 years. This can continue indefinitely.

The patent is not going to expire.

And as his commenters added:

John Anderson: Not to forget that the NRSC let iBiquity keep *all* codec information out NRSC-5, which at least one commenter (see Jonathan Hardis’ filings in 99-325) suggests also will endow a perpetual patent on HD Radio.

J. Aegerter: The moral of the story is that the federal government has become too intrusive into the lives of American citizens and business, When the big deal about AM stereo made its debut in the late ’70′s, there was this push for a government picked standard as before with FM stereo. But the Reagan FCC startled the industry when it correctly reversed course and let the market decide which system would be the standard. It’s all about freedom folks! There is just too much power concentrated in Washington these days and it has been incrementally increasing in the last 15 years. GE used to have a slogan, “Progress is our Most Important Product”, and that is fine when it is do to private industry innovation. The FCC began as a broadcast frequency coordinator and regulator based upon engineering principles. Later, regulation by treaty rolled in and slowly over the years the agency has become a behemoth of Feudalism, and the result is leading to the demise of free terrestrial broadcasting.

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